Wing cracks no threat to safety, insists Airbus chief

AIRCRAFT engineers have accused Airbus of adopting a ''Band-Aid fix'' after tiny cracks were discovered in the wings of all five of the superjumbos that have been inspected for the problem during heavy maintenance.

Airbus has given assurances that its flagship A380 aircraft - the largest passenger jets in the world - are safe to fly and it will be directing airlines, including Qantas, to check for small cracks in the feet of wing-rib attachments when their superjumbos are due for heavy maintenance every four years.

But the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association called for airlines and the European plane maker to conduct inspections as soon as possible.

''There is no way on God's earth that I would be waiting four years to inspect them,'' the federal president of the engineers' union, Paul Cousins, said. ''At the moment, it seems that a Band-Aid fix has been applied too quickly to a situation that could become very serious.''

Airbus engineers only discovered the problem when they were conducting $130 million in repair work to Qantas's first A380, which has been parked at Singapore's Changi Airport since November 2010, when it suffered a mid-air engine explosion.

The cracks, less than a centimetre long, were found on the L-shape feet of the wing ribs. The feet attach the rib - a vertical fixture - to the cover of the wing.

Apart from the Qantas superjumbo, the cracks have been found in the wings of two Singapore Airlines A380s, one belonging to Emirates and one of Airbus's development aircraft.

Qantas maintained yesterday that the tiny cracks did not present a risk to flight safety and it was awaiting a service bulletin from Airbus advising of any action it needed to take.

Airbus's head of engineering, Charles Champion, told the Herald its analysis had determined the tiny cracks posed no threat to safety.

''The aircraft is absolutely safe because there are so many ways for the loads to travel within the structure of the wing,'' he said. ''As it really is not a safety issue. We will inspect them over time … within the next four years - some of them before.''

Airbus has traced the problem to an aluminium material used in the wing ribs - called 7449 - which tends to be more sensitive to the way the parts are assembled on the wing. It has ruled out flight loads, fatigue or the large size of the aircraft as causes.

''It is nothing to do with the loads. We found it is very random. We actually found them on ribs across the wing and from one aircraft to another it can be a different rib foot,'' Mr Champion said.

''On some aircraft we found almost none and on others we found several across the wing on both sides.''

Airbus has kept air safety authorities, including the European Aviation Safety Agency, abreast of the situation but there are no plans to issue airworthiness directives requiring airlines to take action.